How death wishing came about, no one’s really certain. But since it’s become a reality in New Orleans, you have to take the good with the bad. Sure, someone’s wished cancer away and everyone’s grateful. But who was the cat hater that wished away the world’s felines before their last gasp? With no cats around, the mice and rats are taking over. Elvis is back and coffee is now eternally bottomless. And thanks to a drag queen’s dying grand geste, the skies over New Orleans are now eternally blue with bright orange clouds!
Enter Vic, hopelessly in love and mooning with a bottle of Cabernet at the teen-aged Pebbles. She’s burning her tiger striped panties and bras in a ceremony of mourning for the missing cats. He’s middle aged and overweight, working for his sex symbol son Val’s vintage clothing shop, making corsets for the local drag queens. He’s a man dedicated to accepting his lot, except where Pebbles is concerned; she’s everything he wants. But Pebbles, a Christian college drop-out, wants his son instead. Ahhh the sweet perfumes that tickle the noses of middle aged men. Pebbles reminds him of all he can’t have as he sips his mid-day libations and stumbles home in the heat.
But this Death Wishing business is starting to get out of hand. People are being murdered in the Big Easy. There are people who hope to get rich by making their victims wish them riches. And poor Pebbles has fallen under the sway of a dangerous cult leader named Per Qua who has a wish of his own. He’s trying to start Armageddon and has commenced by putting out a hit list on anyone he thinks is capable of death wishing. Vic is tops on his list.
In choosing New Orleans as the setting for her book, Ms Scott is able to write characters who are nearly all that’s left of a once more interesting America. It’s a live and let live kind of town, more so than say New York City, which tolerates differences but sets a blank stare past the peculiar, always keeping the strange at arms length.
Ms Scott’s “Big Easy” as New Orleans is often called, is all understanding, a small town without church lady judgement, where a one time data analyst like Vic can lift his “hurricane” in the company of transvestites, voodoo queens, and the local homeless guy with extra change in his pocket. Everyone knows everyone. Is this an ideal view of New Orleans? Sure, though it can be certain that little worlds like this do exist. But there are only so many pages a writer has to tell her story, and this is the New Orleans that Ms Laura Ellen Scott has set her story in to tell.
Her characters, seen through the eyes of Vic, manage to be deeply drawn and humorously eccentric. Vic’s pining for Pebbles, his love so full of respect, with appreciation for the stains on her clothes and the peach pulp on her lips, drive the plot forward with the calm pace of a hansom cab, clip clopping through the story’s dangers, civilly taking time to stop for beignets and chicory coffee.
Vic’s best friend Martine, a French Canadian “Queen” fond of grand living and the occasional night of cross dressing, might have been handled by lesser writers as an over blown character a la Cage aux Folles. But Ms Scott holds back the brush of her words, making him a more complex character, quietly wise, full of an appetite for food and drink that keeps his melancholy in check. He is a man with a few extra flourishes, but none of them outrageous, making him all the more interesting.
Peripheral characters are eked out with parish and bayou dialects and always funny funny observations about their fellow partners in this world. The power her characters have to endear themselves to us brings to mind the characters in John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces, and Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City”. Her writing is nearly unequaled for its breadth of subjects that color the narrative and the dexterity with which she moves between them.
The humor in Death Wishing is dry. For those readers who venture out with a book in public be warned: This book is laughing-out-loud-to-the-point-of-embarrassment, funny. Those who read while eating may choke; like all good humorists, Ms Scott has an evil sense of timing and a gift for words that are all her own. Her humor is unpredictable and so Death Wishing may be dangerous to your health. But a good life is nothing without its occasional risks. And a life without risks is not one worth living. That’s at least how the characters in this book would see it. And that’s how we see it too. Death Wishing may be the funniest and most touching book you will read in a year’s time. We hope another book from Laura Ellen Scott is on its way soon. It’s not that she has a monopoly on humor but… Well, you’ll see what we mean when you read it!
Death Wishing by Laura Ellen Scott receives 5 Stars out of a possible 5 from Yaroos!